It was a bit of a slow day on the sports front Tuesday. Reaction continues on the Penn State fallout, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded three prospects to the Houston Astros for Wandy Rodriguez and the Nashville Predators matched the offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Shea Weber. Oh and the men's basketball team breezed by Spain 100-78 in their final Olympic tuneup game. Other than that, not a ton happening. Which is why The Stack is all NFL today, looking ahead to several team's first day of training camp. It's amazing to think the start of the 2012-13 season is fast approaching. Time to take a look at the teams opening camp today in "the stack" for today, Wednesday, July 25:
Atlanta Falcons begin training camp
For all intents and purposes, this is a huge year for the Atlanta Falcons. With all of the chaos surrounding the Saints and with several players and coaches suspended for part of the season, the Falcons opportunity to take the NFC South may be this year. They have a very talented roster, but the NFC South is a very competitive division. How will they fare?
Position battle to watch: Middle Linebacker. With Lofa Tatupu out for the year with a pectoral injury and Mike Peterson just being brought in, there will be some competition as to see if he can rise up to the challenge. The linebacker corp as a whole is an interesting position to watch. How they perform will be the difference in the Falcons defense this year.
Storyline #1: Does quarterback Matt Ryan continue to take that next step towards elite quarterback. To do that, the Falcons must not only make the playoffs, but win in the playoffs, something they have failed to in the Mike Smith era. That in and of itself is a storyline as well.
Storyline #2: Julio Jones. The Falcons gave up a ton to go up in the draft last year and take the wide receiver from Alabama. Jones was decent last year, but not great. He has the chance this year to really make a difference. He is a definite sleeper pick for fantasy.
Can't miss fantasy pick: Speaking of fantasy football, the can't miss is Roddy White. Assuming Jones takes that next step, teams will be forced to bring some help over to Jones' side meaning White will have several big opportunities and Ryan will get it to him.
Stay away from: Michael Turner. A possible running back by committee approach is a possibility and Turner's stats would suffer dramatically.
Baltimore Ravens opening up camp
The Baltimore Ravens were one dropped touchdown and one missed field goal away from making it to the Super Bowl last year. How excruciating. But they have come back focused and ready for the task at hand of repeating as AFC North division champions. They have a strong case for it. Will this year end up better than last year? Perhaps. It's a wait and see sort of thing.
Position battle to watch: Wide receiver. With Anquan Boldin, you know what you have. And Torrey Smith is good too, but who can fill in behind those guys to give the Ravens another desperately needed offensive weapon. Perhaps it's Jacoby Jones or one of the younger guys out to make a name for themsevles. This is going to be an interesting camp battle.
Storyline #1: The aging defense. Ray Lewis isn't getting any younger. Plus Ed Reed continues to waffle around his playing career and T-Suggs is out with an Achilles injury for much of the year. The Ravens have a talented rookie in LB Courtney Upshaw and have a stud in Haloti Ngata, but the older guys are the ones who will continue to keep this defense going.
Storyline #2: The continued maturation of Joe Flacco. I'm no big fan of Flacco, certainly not like Ron Jaworski, but Flacco did play awfully well in the playoffs last year. He needs to do that during the regular season. The Ravens have some decent offensive peices and Flacco needs to deliver. Plus he wants a new contract. What better way to get a new contract than to have the best season of your career to date.
Can't miss fantasy player: Ray Rice. No brainer. He can run, he can catch and he scores touchdowns.
Stay away from: Joe Flacco. Until he puts up some bigger offensive numbers and proves he can do it week in, week out, Flacco isn't worthy of being drafted high or even being your number one quarterback. Second would be ok.
Chicago Bears start training camp
Is this the year Bears fans have been waiting for? With Brandon Marshall in the mix, Matt Forte under contract and Jay Cutler ready to ignite, are the Bears going to make some noise this season. They should. They have the talent. But they do play in the toughest division in football, the NFC North.
Camp battle to watch: Secondary. Charles Tilman leads this bunch and Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden are nice, but this secondary does have some holes. It's up for them to help anchor down these spots, otherwise expect some rookies and young players to steal a spot. The offensive line will also be something to watch.
Storyline #1: Cutler and Marshall's relationship. The two had a couple of great of years in Denver a few years back. Will they pick up right where they left off?
Storyline #2: New offensive coordinator Mike Tice's new look offense. With the departure of Mike Martz and his throwing 85% percent of the time or whatever it was, the Bears should go back to a more balanced approach, perhaps even using Forte more in the run game. That may be the reason they brought in Michael Bush.
Can't miss fantasy player: Jay Cutler. With Forte coming off a knee injury and a couple of new toys, Cutler is going to be relied upon more and will have a breakout year.
Stay away from: Brandon Marshall. Teams will be focused on taking away the new number one option, meaning Devin Hester should see a lot more looks. Don't get me wrong, Marshall will still have a good year, but he is not a number wide receiver on your fantasy team. Take him as no higher than your second wide receiver.
Denver Broncos begin the Peyton Manning journey
Did the Denver Broncos bring in anyone significant this offseason? Perhaps one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game? Yes they have. Out with Tim Tebow, in with Peyton Manning. Let the media circus begin. The Broncos will be under an intense microscope this year.
Camp battle to watch: Running back. Do the Broncos go with Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, maybe even Lance Ball? Will they take a running back by committee approach? Someone must step up as the leader of the pack. That is going to be an intriguing battle.
Storyline #1: Peyton Manning's health. He didn't play last year and still doesn't know for sure if he is 100% healthy coming off his neck injury. All eyes will be on how sharp he looks. Knowing Peyton's work ethic, I say he'll look really good.
Storyline #2: The new look offense. The Broncos offense is going to look vastly different from the one Tebow ran last year. The Broncos have added a few more weapons to the offensive side to make Peyton more comfortable including reuniting him with tight end Jacob Tamme. This offense is going to be a fun one to watch and see how they develop.
Can't miss fantasy player: Demaryius Thomas. He started to come out of his shell late last year with Tebow. Now with Manning, expect a monsterous season from the wide receiver.
Stay away from: Peyton Manning. Look no one knows exactly what Peyton is going to do this year. His health is still going to be questioned, particularly after he takes a hit. He may show a little rust. He's not worth taking a pick on in the first three or four rounds. Maybe after that, but don't take him with your number one or two pick.
Green Bay Packers begin training camp
A 15-1 record last year ended with disappointment last year for the Packers, losing to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Packers are out for revenge this year and their offense is once again loaded. Look out for the Pack.
Camp battle to watch: Secondary. No question the defense was bad last year and part of the problem was the secondary. Yes Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams are good, but the depth behind them is some questions. And the safety with the most years in the NFL is Morgan Burnett with three. Someone has to make a move. But who? That will be the most intriguing battle to watch.
Storyline #1: Will the defense improve? They can only get better, because they can't get much worse after last year. It was just awful how bad the Packers were. Injuries did have something to do with it, but the offense had to score so much because the defense was always giving up points. That has to improve for the Packers to win a Super Bowl this year.
Storyline #2: Wide receiver. The Packers are loaded at wide receiver and they will have to make several big decisions on their roster. An intriguing guy is rookie Dale Moss from South Dakota State. He played only one year of college football after four years of basketball, but is very athletic and can make big plays. The Packers may want to keep him, but with the depth at wide receiver, who will they keep and who will they let go?
Can't miss fantasy player: Aaron Rodgers. No brainer. Possible #1 pick in fantasy
Stay away from: James Starks. Not ready to committ to him yet as a guy who will get you fantasy points week in, week out. The Packers are a much better passing team.
More teams coming up soon.
Coming up Thursday: More training camp previews